As a historian I appreciate a good narrative. I look for them when I’m researching in the archives and try to weave them into my writing. Soccer, and sports in general, seem to always have an illuminated sense of narrative. Big plays in big games creating iconic names, championship seasons founded on the backs of a group of unknown players, or last second plays to win everything — these are the kinds of stories Orlando City’s USL days were dominated by. These kinds of stories drive Hollywood sports movies and a generous allotment of shelves at your local bookstore.
I’ve often thought of my beloved Orlando City through a lens of narratives. Our well-told story of founding a club and pushing Major League Soccer to first recognize, and then later invite us into the league will be forever part of both the club and the city’s history.
As I ponder my infinite disappointment this season, these ideas of narratives are still on my mind. In an echo to hundreds of Orlando City supporter Twitter accounts, my team seems to have completely lost the plot. What felt like destiny in 2015 now just feels like a long punishment. What’s worse, we’ve become the jester-esque antagonist to the league’s new favorites, Atlanta United, the Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters.
This season’s off-season overhaul felt like a resetting of the narrative. Bringing in a host of players who had been Lion heart-breakers on their previous teams seemed a way to twist the favor of destiny. Instead, well, I don’t need to tell you how it’s gone.
I hold on to hope though. As my brain looks for new narratives I’m reminded of the links we have to the past. Striker Dom Dwyer and Head Coach James O’Connor are definitive links to Orlando City’s glory days. They remember an Orlando City that didn’t languish in both the standings and respectability. While the guiding light towards the post-season is quickly fading out, perhaps there is something within these two men that can lead a renaissance as this season closes and the next one begins?
Both made significant sacrifices to make the move to Orlando. Dwyer left perennially competitive Sporting Kansas City, while O’Connor was just hitting his stride with the 2017 USL champions, Louisville FC. Their welcome to Orlando hasn’t been easy. O’Connor has inherited a semi-mutinous ship in a storm, while Dwyer has had a host of moments without tying them into the club’s long-term success. Still, both the young coach and the player seem happy to be in Orlando, still eager to bathe the club in glory again.
As we limp into the off-season, the club will take inventory of its assets as it reloads and prepares for the 2019 campaign. I posit that Dwyer and O’Connor have intangibles that we can build upon — championship hearts that know what this team means to the supporters.
As a historian, I’m loyal to my archives. I can only tell the story that the papers give me. Still, as an Orlando City supporter, I can hope for a narrative, for something to begin stewing here as the 2018 season reaches its conclusion. That our club can put a few big games together, patch some wounds, build some trust, and look forward with a new level of confidence. Building off that, our Orlando City fights its way into respectability and contention again. That’s the narrative I want to write one day.